Category Archives: Christmas

I started writing this on Monday so there you go

So! Here we are! A week to Christmas! Isn’t it grand!

I hope you’re as excited as my kids about that. I am … not as excited as my kids. Many things conspire to make me particularly peeved today, though I did almost find myself getting a tiny whiff of a hint of the seasonal spirit over the weekend. Almost.

So, this is what’s been going on, briefly. One of my children – I won’t say which, in a pathetic attempt at shielding their anonymity – has been experiencing school refusal. Which means we have all, as a family, been experiencing it, because it has what people might call trickle-down effects. And in spite of the way I feel on x out of y number of mornings, said child is not just doing this to be bad, or difficult, or to make my life miserable. School refusal is a Real Thing that children suffer from, for one reason or another.

I’m not going to go into the whats and whys of it all because that part is not my story to tell. But how frustrated and blocked I feel on days when the child who should be in school is not in school – I think I’m allowed talk about that here. If I’m spending all morning trying to talk someone into getting dressed and leaving the house and maybe even getting out of the car once we get to the parking lot, I’m not getting in my tiny, paltry amount of exercise, or writing anything or feeling in any way useful. Instead I’m feeling more and more ineffectual, which is not good for anyone’s mental health.

We are dealing with it. No advice required thank you. It’s just that, as the kids get older we stop talking about them so much, here in blogland – but this is when we need the support of our mom-friends just as much as ever, maybe more. We need to know that these challenges (let’s call them) don’t mean we’re bad parents, they don’t mean we’ve failed, or broken our children. The job changes when it’s no longer about poop and boobs and sleepless nights, but it doesn’t always get easier.

On the flip side, the days when school attendance is achieved, on time even, I am delighted. I do a happy dance, I feel light and free and like a leaf on the wind. I feel that this is the beginning of a beautiful new era, and that anything is possible. In short, I feel the way I used to feel when the baby (either baby, whichever) slept all night, or something like all night. It’s a glorious day.

Apart from that, a couple of nice/silly things.

Thing one:

Finally, this year, when the kids are 9 and 11, we are at a point where I feel safe leaving the presents under the tree, because they can both handle the suspense and enjoy the anticipation. And they’re loving it so much – announcing to each other after school how many new presents have appeared, cataloguing them, showing their father, sneaking in parcels for each other.
So if you are wondering when or if this moment will ever come in your house, I offer you hope.
(Of course this year we have two cats, so we have to defend all the presents from them now…)

And thing two:

Dash says that when he was very small he thought that people were born whatever age they were. Evidently the whole growing part hadn’t yet sunk in. So when I told him people grew in their mummies’ tummies he thought that was going to be very awkward if the person in question was, like 40 or something.
Which just goes to show that no matter how clearly you think you have explained something to a small child, they will manage to get it arseways and make for themselves some totally bonkers explanation about it.

How’s the season going for you, then?

Bare trees reflected in the water, blue sky

Not very festive picture, but it is seasonal.


Because we were travelling this Christmas, we did our official family present ceremony the weekend before, when Mabel got her big huge Playmobil thing and Dash got his scooter and B and I exchanged some things that were partly almost identical (but complementary). So on Christmas morning itself the kids weren’t expecting anything beyond their stockings until the big dinner with cousins later in the day. So, the stockings were ransacked, the oranges discarded, the chocolate eaten before breakfast, the small items admired or ignored… and that was it. Except we did have one more thing: an announcement.

No, I’m not pregnant. Don’t be silly.

The announcement was that when we got back home we would commence looking for a kitten. They were pretty excited about that. Mabel spent much of the rest of the trip saying “kitten kitten kitten kitten” at us for days at a time and saying we shouldn’t have told her because now she would obsess about it until we stepped off the plane. I cautioned that we would not be dashing straight to the kitten shop and getting a kitten the moment we got home; that this was simply the beginning of being open to finding a kitten.

And so it has been, because the animal shelter doesn’t have any kittens right now. (Yes, the irony. When we visited in the summer they had baskets of kittens, more than anyone needed; but it seemed that everyone had been adopted for Christmas. There were hardly any animals there at all.) We’ve taken a couple of books about cat care out of the library, I’ve nosed around PetSmart to see what there is in the way of litter trays and cat carriers, we’ve agreed that the ideal would be, in fact, two sibling kittens, to keep each other company and spread the love a bit. There were even two sibs at PetSmart (which offers adoptions, they don’t sell bred kittens), but they cost twice as much as the shelter and I didn’t fall instantly in love with them and the next time I looked one of them had gone so that was that.

It’s possible that I’m overthinking this. But even if we go to the big county shelter (on my list for next weekend … maybe) and they have bushels of kittens, how do you choose? These animals are going to be part of our family for years to come; can we just grab any two that look cute? Or the only two they have, if it’s like that? Perversely, I don’t want to get two more grown up cats whose personalities are already established, because they’re someone else’s cats already, not ours.

So, in short, I want some choice but not too much. I want a kitten (and its sibling) to choose us, so that we know we’ve chosen the right ones. I want a sign from the Cat God. (Is that Bast? I think it’s Bast. Dash would know, because he’s read Rick Riordan’s Egyptian series. He says they’re not as good as the others.)

But anyway, look out for some cute kitten photos on a blog near you, coming soon. I hope.

Girl sitting on a log wearing a sweater with a kitten faces print.

Mabel’s new top has kittens all over it. This was a coincidence, I promise.

We wish you a merry coco pops

Christmas Eve

Coco Pops Rocks are not the same as regular Coco Pops. I am now one of those sad people who can’t tell that there is a totally new cereal based on the old cereal but not the same as the old cereal. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m eating Coco Pops Rocks by the handful because (a) nobody else will eat them (b) they’re right here (c) I’m using them to soak up all the prosecco.

The thing about being away at Christmas is that I’m sort of on self-imposed domesticity strike, so other than putting some things in the dishwasher now and keeping on top of the laundry and then I’m basically letting everyone fend for themselves. Shopping involves making sure we have white bread and Nutella (nope, we’re out again) and corn flakes and milk, but beyond those basics I assume we’ll be eating at other people’s houses or out. This is good for my waistline (other than the aforementioned Coco Pops Rocks) but bad for my parenting cred, as somehow my children still expect me to magic up food for them at intervals of, say, seven minutes.

If I was in my own kitchen I could easily whisk up cinnamon buns to proof overnight for tomorrow morning, but here I halfheartedly located some flour, realised it was the wrong sort, despaired of finding yeast, and called it a day. There’ll be chocolate for breakfast. What more do they want?

Stephen’s Day

In 1987 I impressed my Spanish exchange’s big brother by helping him figure out the lyrics to George Michael’s Faith. Remember when you had to wait for the words to the song you liked to be printed in Smash Hits before you could work out what exactly they were saying at that tricky fast bit? Now add the fact that it’s in a language you only know from school – the appearance of a native speaker in your house could up your street cred quite a lot if harnessed for lyric-discovery purposes.

This one, of all the blows of horrible 2016, hits me in the history. Wham! was one of the first groups I liked, George Michael was sexy before I knew that was even what I was thinking, and in 1991 when our class went to the Gaeltacht to immerse ourselves in the Irish language before our oral exams my copy of Listen Without Prejudice was one of the only two tapes our entire household was willing to listen to. (I think the other was The Best of Mary Black. We were an eclectic group.)

So today we’re treating the kids to a George Michael YouTube retrospective, whether they like it or not.


I hope you had a lovely day yesterday. We had an excellent dinner with family, just as it should be.



All I want for Christmas

Now that I’ve lodged Mariah Carey permanently in your left ear – and, be honest, she’s been there most of the week, hasn’t she – let me interrupt myself to tell you a story.

This morning I sat down to start writing and realised something was wrong. I felt … loose. Free. Sort of dangerously slippy. Unrestrained. No, I haven’t given the husband the heave-ho, or sent the children on an all-expenses paid trip to Siberia – I’d forgotten to put on my bra.

As I raced upstairs to remedy this inexplicable oversight, I ransacked my brain for excuses. I’m not the sort of girl who pulls off her bra with abandon as soon as she comes home, shedding it as she might kick off uncomfortable shoes, happy to be done with them for the day. (There’s nothing bad about that sort of girl. I’m just not one.) Once I’m out of bed and out of pyjamas, I have a bra on. I’m uncomfortable without.

My only explanation was that I’d taken off the gym gear and sports bra I’d put on first thing, but had not had a shower since I didn’t actually exercise. And apparently in my brain if I’m taking off one bra and putting clothes on straight away, I’m putting on pyjamas, which don’t get a bra. But this time I managed to put on three top layers (it’s cold), socks, and a pair of leggings, and go downstairs without even noticing that I’d missed a vital aspect of my habilliment.

I don’t know if that’s plausible. The other explanation is that I’m finally losing my marbles.


So there you go. Keep a careful eye out for such a thing happening again. In the meantime, I read Sinead’s nice post about what other people wanted for Christmas and I thought I’d do one of my own. This is really my pre-Christmas list as much as my Christmas list, because some of these will be or have already been procured by me for me. But some might still be a lovely surprise.

My very lovely new bag, which I found in Marshall’s as I am wont to do, and lusted after for a while. Then I cunningly ordered three pairs of boots from Zappos, almost bought one, decided not to, sent them all back, and used the money I saved (ahem) to buy the bag. The price tag says “RRP 158” and I paid $50, so it’s a bargain.


These were the boots I sent back. They’re lovely, but I wasn’t entirely sure they’d be as comfy as the boots they’d be replacing, which look exactly the same but a bit taller (and less new) and are still perfectly roadworthy.



I bought a skirt in Dress Barn (shopping there makes me feel like I must be a cow, but they have some nice stuff at very affordable prices), and two tops as well. The skirt is crying out for some tall brown boots, so I’m giving myself permission to look for a pair of those when we’re in Dublin. (If money were no object and I had skinnier calves, these would be ideal.) (Can’t find a photo of the skirt online for some reason. It’s longish and dark red and velvety thin cord, A-line, quite 70s retro and very Christmassy.)


I really need-want a nice silvery-grey scarf that goes with everything. This is a random one I found on Pinterest, to symbolize something that I won’t know exactly until I see it.


I also want a new chopping board. Nothing fancy – I saw a nice one for 7.99 in Marshall’s. I like the bamboo ones, though.


And these Food Huggers are really cute and would cut down on nasty plastic bags in my salad drawer.



See, my needs are simple. My tastes are modest. Except for boots. And bags.

So close

As an emigrant, there’s always a temptation to feel a bit sorry for myself at this time of year. Boo hoo, I’m far from my family. I’ve nobody to invite to dinner on Christmas Day. I’ve nowhere to go. Nobody has a present under their tree for me. Tragedy and woe.

The thing about America, and probably everywhere else, is that lots of people are far from family. Even if they’re in the country, they’re not necessarily traveling at this time of year, for a multitude of potential reasons.

What’s more, family and holidays can go together like siblings and cabin fever, if you get my drift. Sometimes it’s just a recipe for fights and disaster, and avoiding it all and having a quiet immediate-family-only Christmas is the stuff of daydreams for many.

So while a chunk of me wishes we were in Ireland for the friends-and-rellies, all-you-can-eat-and-more-than-you-should-drink extravaganza, I’m appreciating how peaceful and simple our Christmas here is. I finally embraced the miracle of the modern age and did all my shopping online, so I didn’t even have to go through the packing-and-shipping angst of yesteryear. Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping is my new best friend.

We have friends to invite over and we have friends to go and see. We have new and old traditions to establish and to continue. We’ve iced gingerbread cookies and gone to see the Nutcracker. We’ve decorated the tree and gone ice skating. The children’s capacity for enjoyable anticipation has long since expired and they just want it to be here.

It’s nearly here. We’re nearly there.

The children decorating the tree

They did all the work


This is basically just an excuse for some photos

I’m grateful for the lack of polar vortices we’ve had to endure so far this winter, I have to say. Yesterday’s snow disappeared in just about the time I like, which was pretty much overnight. By this afternoon at home time the same playground where I took all the photos yesterday looked like this:

Mabel on a swing; no snow.

The first winter I spent in the US, in Pennsylvania, we didn’t see the ground under the snow from mid-December to March. I can’t imagine that now. It was all so monochrome. Not to mention chilly.

Mabel is wandering around with many small stuffed animals in her baby Ergo, and has set up all the other animals on the sofa wearing as many backpacks as she can find. (Not all the other animals. We don’t have enough sofas for all the animals, let alone backpacks.)

Mabel on the hopper ball thing

I think the best Christmas present of the lot was this one, the $15 Loloball, or whatever they’re called these days. (I got one for Christmas in about 1980. Mine was blue and yellow.) It ostensibly belongs to Mabel, for complicated reasons of Santa-fairness, but Dash has really taken to it. They have negotiated that whenever he wants to use it he has to ask “Da?” and she replies “Da” or “Nyet” or “Nyet nyet” because apparently in Russian two negatives make a positive.

This is because they got a Russian teacher at the school this year and everyone gets a Russian lesson once a week or once a month or something. The teacher hands out photocopied roubles for good behaviour and they come home chanting some very Communist-sounding song about Ruskova. It’s hilarious. I have no idea whether they’re learning anything beyond da and nyet, but who cares? My kids are learning Russian, take that Montgomery County boo yah.

Anyway, he bounces and counts to see how high up he can get, and it’s something energetic he can do indoors without breaking things, so I call it a win.

Meanwhile, his sister continues to amass toys upon toys and play with them all and then eschew them in order to cut out paper dolls instead. She’s also perusing the Playmobil booklet at every turn to decide what she’ll buy with her star-chart earnings, and earmarking Li’l Woodzeez families for her next birthday. Or maybe that should be the other way round, for the sake of my finances.

paper dolls sitting up in bed

Presents to myself

These are the empty days of the year. Nothing new can happen, there’s nothing but retrospectives and looking ahead to next week and the terrible disasters that always seem to come around Christmas; whether it’s a tsunami or a missing airplane, all you can do is hope and pray that it won’t be you this time.

A few days before Christmas I took a trip to the fancy toy shop, the one that’s not Target, where they have expensive and whimsical and beautiful and silly things (and also kitchen gadgets and wine and a restaurant while you’re at it; if you live anywhere near here, you know where I’m talking about). I wanted a couple of things for the kids, but I ended up buying some things that were a bit more for me. They’re some of my nicest presents, actually.

I was looking for a colouring book for Mabel when I found this one, and it was so close to my heart that I had to buy it for myself. Carl Larsson was a Swedish artist and I have no idea where or why my dad picked up a set of prints of his paintings, but some time many years ago, he did. He framed some and put several of the poster-size ones on a particle-board backing and hung them up our stairs. I had one little girl in red at the foot of my bed for many years. (She’s still there, in fact.) Dad would even switch out the one in the frame according to the season, sometimes, so we could have a snowy Swedish scene or a summery one, or something in between.


I love them all, and they’re part of me; I associate them so strongly with my father that it’s almost as if he’d painted them himself. (We have my dad’s paintings around the house too, but his style is different. More boats and buildings, fewer people.)

So now I have a Carl Larsson colouring book and a tin of coloured pencils with fancy names to go with it. Mabel threw a strop the first day I took it out and told her it was mine and she couldn’t use it, but once the sheen had worn off for me I let her colour a little in the second picture and I think we’ve arrived at a truce. A little unreasonableness on both sides, probably. I never said I was more mature than a six year old.


I also picked up at the fancy toy shop a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle. I had the notion that this would be something we could start on the dining table and leave on the go for several days, to come back to and fit in a few pieces now and then. I even labelled it to all of us when I wrapped it and put it under the tree. But yesterday morning B went out for a long run, the kids were doing something else, and I sat down with all 500 pieces and a cup of tea. Three hours later, with some help from a returned husband and none at all from the children, it was done, and I felt the twin satisfaction and emptiness that comes from finishing a project and being left aimless once again.


Next year I’m buying a 1000-piece one.


Assorted culinary disasters

Apparently it’s been a while since I roasted a chicken. When I took it out and thought I’d take a stab (har) at carving it, I couldn’t find the breast. You’d think it’d be right there, but it didn’t seem to be.

“I think the chicken’s upside down,” I said to the amassed hungry hordes. (That is, to B. The kids are not interested in chicken.)

I’ll have you know that cooking the bird upside down is actually a legitimate technique mentioned by Nigella Lawson as a surefire way to get a tender turkey, so let’s pretend I did it on purpose.

Sprouts and green beans

I didn’t take a picture of the bird, so here’s the veg. It was tasty.

None of my Christmas cooking really worked out, since I also made a Christmas log / bouche de noel / swiss roll that took forever to bake and then totally cracked when I rolled it up even though I followed all the directions that were meant to ensure that couldn’t possibly happen. It tasted delicious, though, and since it’s a fatless, flourless sponge, it basically has no calories so it’s fine to go back for thirds.

B said, “So what’s in it then?”
“Eggs. Chocolate and eggs.”
“So it’s a chocolate mousse.”
He’s right. It’s a chocolate mousse, baked and rolled up with cream inside.

Cracked chocolate log

I filled in the spaces with more cream

This morning I christened my new waffle iron. About two hours later I found the butter I’d melted to go in the batter still in the microwave, which explains quite well why they stuck to the thing. I look forward to doing it again tomorrow and including the butter, for improved letting-go.

Wobbly waffle

Maiden voyage

In other news, I’m on Instagram now. Some very nice person I’m married to gave me a Kindle Fire for Christmas, and now I’m on Instagram and I can have fun with fancy filters and making my photos look all seventiesy. I have to practice taking selfies before I post any, though. And put on a lot of eyeliner, probably.


Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve began inauspiciously, with Mabel awake too early because she had a runny nose. She told me it was really extra bad having a grumpy day on Christmas Eve, which is a hard enough day to get through at the best of times. We went ice skating to try to burn off some energy – it’s been raining all day, so outdoor activities were not on the cards – but neither child really got their money’s worth out of it and we showed up late and left early for the meagre two-hour session.

B and I did some sorting out and wrapping of all the cardboard box contents last night, and all the new thrilling packages under the tree this morning barely survived the thorough investigation they were put through when they were finally noticed this morning. I had to make a pronouncement that IF the packages were left alone all day, people MIGHT get to open ONE this evening before bed.

When we’re not travelling for Christmas, and we don’t have anywhere to go tomorrow or anyone to have for dinner, I have too much time on my hands to reflect on the slightly ridiculous arbitrariness of it all. Why should we have to wait till tomorrow morning to open all those perfectly good items? Why should we eat a fancy dinner on this random Thursday? Why is it any different from any other? The strength of tradition, I suppose. These things we do because they’re what we always did.

So the kids did leave the presents alone for the rest of the day, and I they chose to open the gifts they’d given each other, the ones from the crappy little “holiday shop” at school that we’d sent them in with money for. That way they both got the fun of opening something and of seeing the thing they’d chosen being opened. We let them give us our presents too, so now I have a SpongeBob pencil and two stretchy bracelets and B has two pens in the shape of baseball bats that say “Dad” on them.

I’ve done some baking and eaten too many mince pies, and the children have played Clue(do) and watched the film Clue, which B is hoping to make a new holiday tradition. I’m sure it’s not entirely suitable, but hey, it’s not Die Hard (that other Christmas movie). Now they’re requesting their new favourite song, Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You.” Because we’re on the cutting edge of 1994 over here.

Soon, surely, eventually, it will be bedtime and they will be asleep and we will stuff the stockings and stack Santa’s offerings. And we’ll go to bed and smile in our sleep because we are together and warm and safe, and we have more than we could possibly deserve.

Happy Christmas.

B, Dash and Mabel

Odds and ends

Another Amazon parcel just showed up on the front doorstep. It’s addressed to me, but I have no idea whether it’s something I ordered or something someone else is sending to me. It might be gift-wrapped inside the box, but the only way to find that out would be to open it.

So I think all these boxes are just going to go under the tree as they are, and on Thursday morning we will open them all and distribute presents as appropriate. (For now, they’re out of sight in the basement, because Mabel is not quite able to manage the temptation of presents under the tree for any length of time. I know, because I put two things there that are not even for her, and she peeked at one of them.)

That’s a great plan for saving on wrapping paper, but in fact I think I’ll have to get B to investigate them all instead, because some of them will be Santa presents and need to go in or below stockings. Even though Santa has been thoroughly debunked so nobody would care, but I need some sort of delineation here.

I have absolutely positively bought everything I need, though I do still have to find some marzipan for the almond icing on the Christmas cake, because I draw the line at making from scratch something that nobody in the house even likes. But you have to have it, because otherwise the royal icing doesn’t work. Last year I found it at IKEA, but it doesn’t seem to be there this year, so my search continues.

(Sigh. I have no attention span. I wrote that and then went to the IKEA site to see if marzipan would be listed. Then I was distracted by a list of product recalls, read that, and clicked away again without looking for marzipan. Then I spent several seconds more than you would think necessary staring out the window while I tried to remember the phrase “attention span”.)

I’m now on hold on the phone to IKEA. I might be here a while.

B and I went to the movies last night (Mockingjay Part 1) and I think Mabel took a while to go to sleep for the babysitter. As a result, she woke up grumpy and has refused to get dressed all day, thus avoiding any attempts to get her to leave the house. I think she’s not being intransigent so much as recognising her limits, so I sent B and Dash to the zoo for the lights display and Mabel and I are hanging out at home. She’s been happily gluing beads to pictures and adding to her massive pile of Harry Potter illustrations, so I think it was the right call.

Bead art

Mixed media, right?

IKEA will have no more marzipan for at least three weeks. Time for plan B, then.